(Photo of Kei'Trel Clark: Charles LeClaire - USA TODAY Sports)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The 2021 NFL Draft might have only just ended, but it's never too early to start looking ahead to next year. While receivers Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick were the only Louisville players drafted this year, the 2022 NFL Draft has a chance to see many more former Cardinals taken off the board.
Louisville might be coming off of a 4-7 season, but the team is a lot deeper than many people realize, and there are several players who could very well play themselves into a draft pick.
Here are eight current Cardinals who are currently the most likely to be selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, in alphabetical order:
ILB CJ Avery
Avery could have very easily declared for this year's draft, but opted to take advantage of one final year with the Cardinals. The converted safety is extraordinarily versatile, as he has been either first or second in tackles over the last three seasons, and has logged three interceptions and 14 pass deflections during that time span. Due to his slightly undersized frame, his role at the next level is most likely in the form of a STAR linebacker due to his background as a defensive back.
C Cole Bentley
Bentley is another player who could have declared early but decided to come back for a final year, probably in part due to the deep offensive line class in the '21 draft. The center is not only one of the most experienced offensive linemen for Louisville, with 40 total games under his belt, but he is arguably their best. He was named to the Rimington Award watch list last October, which goes to the top center in college football, and was the one of the best pass blockers in the ACC according to Pro Football Focus.
CB Kei'Trel Clark
Barring some sort of meteoric collapse in his game or a major injury, this is the more surefire player on this list to get drafted next year. In fact, not only that, Clark could very well his way into first round status. Not only was the Liberty transfer the best defender for the Cardinals, he was arguably their best player - and you could make the case that he his the program's best man-to-man cover corner since Jaire Alexander. In his first season at Louisville, he had 36 tackles (27 solo), 10 pass deflections, two tackles for loss and an interception.
QB Malik Cunningham
Whether or not Cunningham gets drafted next year is entirely dependent on the season that he has. If he has a year like in 2019 where he set the single-season program passing efficiency record with a mark of 194.45, then he should be an easy pick. If he has a year like in 2020, where he accounted for 15 turnovers - 12 interceptions and three lost fumbles - then you can almost guarantee he will return for his redshirt senior year in 2022.
S Kenderick Duncan
The Georgia Southern safety has yet to play a down for Louisville, but the staff, and particularly defensive coordinator Bryan Brown, is very high on his potential. Given his track record, it's hard not to be. Despite playing just six games last year due to injury, he still finished with 28 tackles (16 solo), five pass breakups and two interceptions in. He was named to the All-Sun Belt First Team by Pro Football Focus. In 32 career games with the Eagles, Duncan has 146 tackles (100 solo), 3.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions, 15 pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
TE Marshon Ford
Offensive weapons like Tutu Atwell, Dez Fitzpatrick and Javian Hawkins might have stolen the show over the last couple years, but Ford has been the most underrated piece of the Louisville offense. With all three having moved on to the NFL, the former walk-on is now the top returning offensive skill player, and has a chance to show what he can really do. He had 309 yards and six touchdowns last season, and even showcased his ability to block on multiple occasions.
ILB Monty Montgomery
While he was not a regular starter in 2020, Montgomery was one of the most important components of the Louisville defense. In ten games and three starts, Montgomery had 46 tackles (33 solo), 7.5 tackles for loss and a team-best 4.0 sacks. With regular starter Rodjay Burns heading to the next level and Montgomery receiving his snaps, his production as a blitzer has a chance to shoot through the roof.
OT Trevor Reid
Reid might have played primarily on special teams during the 2020 season, but if the coaching staff is to be believed, he had one of the best springs out of the entire Louisville roster and could be a breakout candidate for 2021. He is projected to take over the starting left tackle spot, and while he doesn't quite have Mekhi Becton's size, he is increased both his playing weight and his skill on the line.
- OLB Yasir Abdullah
- OG Caleb Chandler
- RB Hassan Hall
- RB Jalen Mitchell
- WR Shai Werts
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